Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Glacier's on Fire!

Day 4 - Missoula thru Glacier Park to Waterton Park and back to Cut Bank

I slept better last night but still feel very sluggish this morning. The TV says the sun will be filtered today, as Montana is on fire and there is smoke everywhere. Everybody is advised to just stay home and watch TV. Nevertheless, after some bad coffee I hit the road. The Big Sky was Big Smoke. Tired and disappointed, I headed toward Glacier Park, the furthest destination on this trip.

Skirting Flathead Lake was very beautiful and I stopped for my 50-mile brunch in Polson at a quaint little lake-resort restaurant. My morning dose of protein, starch and cholesterol perked me up and by the time I passed through Kalispell I was starting to feel pretty good.

Glacier Park is full of beautiful hikes, rafting tours, and so on, but I limited my tour to riding up the Going-to-the-(filtered)-Sun Road, a beautiful and well-engineered road up and over the Continental Divide. There was some construction at the top, creating some short 1-way delays, but mostly there was little traffic and zillions of turn-outs and vista points. As usual, however, the views were much too expansive, even in the smoke, to capture with a few pixels behind a camera lens.

Smoke on the Water (not by Deep Purple)
View from the village

Attractive waterfall (the big waterfalls with names were dry)

Heaven's Peak viewed from The Loop

I stopped many, many times, and the speed limit was a leisurely 25, sometimes 40. Near the top I got behind a lady who came to a complete stop quite often, either taking pictures from her car or stopping to catch up with the podcast version of the park tour. Passing was impossible, so the big Wing and I just toughed it out. The engine got hotter than I’ve seen it since crossing the Mojave Desert last year in 120-degree weather.

Looking back on the Going-to-the-Sun Road

I stopped just before the top to photograph the treacherous road I had just climbed, etched into the side of some very steep mountains. When I returned to the bike, it would not start. The battery had been working hard all afternoon starting and restarting the bike, burning too many lights (I repaired the trailer lights a couple weeks ago), and was not getting recharged on the slow stop-n-go trip up the mountains. I pulled out the trusty jump-starter and continued up to the top. I parked at the visitor center at the Continental Divide, knowing I’d have to jump start it again. The last time I rode across the Divide was at Pie Town in New Mexico, a much less eventful crossing, if not tastier.

A "horn" left by a glacier at the Continental Divide

My plan was to exit the park to the east and camp for the night at a nearby town. Upon exit, however, the sky to the north was actually free of smoke, so I followed the nosewheel into Canada and Waterton Park. Here the sky was truly big…and blue. I bought some gas at what became the point on my trip farthest from home and pointed the Wing back into Montana, passing many campgrounds and pulling into a motel in Cut Bank.

Overlooking the valley at Waterton Park - Canada

Just outside Waterton Park Village

Except for a few miles inside Glacier Park, there were very few cars on the road anywhere. The roads up here are very lonely. What a wonderful way to travel! Today’s mileage was 364, many many more than originally planned.

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